September 3 Journal
So I have finally begun my big adventure and so far it has been exactly what I expected it’d be; exciting, thrilling, wonderful, and very overwhelming at times! I began my trip by saying goodbye to all of my friends and family at the airport. I flew out of Jacksonville airport at 11:55 A.M. and arrived in Detroit a few hours later. In Detroit I was sitting at “my” gate and when a former exchange student from Michigan confronted me. She noticed me in my Rotary blazer so after introducing ourselves we had a long discussion about how awesome Rotary is! After our long discussion we were comparing tickets when we realized I was not at “my” gate I had been waiting at. I had the right country, Amsterdam, but just the wrong flight. At this point I was completely freaked out! Luckily I was next to the real gate I was supposed to be waiting at, so she immediately directed me towards it. When I ran over there they had already boarded and fortunately I made it just in time!
I slept a lot of my flight but woke up when we were an hour or so away. The anxiety was then keeping me awake! I am so happy I woke up when I did though. When I looked out the window I saw the beautiful sight of London, England glowing. It blew me away and only boosted my excitement up another 10 levels! So when that 7 hour flight was over I was very pressed for time. I had about 45 minutes to make it to the opposite side of the Amsterdam airport, and that included going through the 30 minute security lines! It probably didn’t help that I was stressing over that so much. When I finally made it to the desk to have my passport stamped the woman noticed I only had a few minutes to get to my gate so she allowed me to skip everyone in the security lines! Once more I arrived at my gate just in time.
That flight went by very fast and next thing I knew I was running into the arms of my host father, Enrique, and my host brother, Pablo. We went home and they showed me around the house and then we walked to my school, San Juan Bautista, and the surrounding area of our gorgeous apartment complex. After this little tour I was incredibly worn out so I unpacked my things and went straight to sleep. I woke up to my beautiful host mother, Susana, telling me we were going swimming. The pool I swear must have been 60 degrees! It was freezing cold! After the pool we went over to a local supermarket where we picked up some things for dinner. I helped my host mother make gazpacho and then we went to a bar called Rojo Mar. There we ate pescado con aceitunas and mariscos. It was delicious! Then we returned home and ate some more! We had fried eggs, bread, jamon Serrano, and some queso. There is definitely a lot of eating here! I love it! So now I just finished watching some TV with Susana, Enrique, Pablo, and don’t forget my handy dandy Spanish-English Dictionary! I can already tell this is going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life! Thank you so much Rotary! Saludos!
September 29 Journal
Hello Everyone! I have just returned from a little town called Sotillo and I feel it is very necessary to share my experiences with you all!
First I would like to mention that the five days I spent in Sotillo were some of the best days of my life! The adventure began with a two hour drive to the town. When we entered the town all of the kids ran up to the car yelling in excitement for our arrival. This is when I knew that the weekend was going to be super fun! In this town my parents have a home that is gorgeous! It is two stories with all wooden floors and a beautiful backyard. Across from this house is a church that is also very pretty. Luckily I had the room with the balcony where I could go out and see everything. So after I was given a tour of the house, we went to meet the parents and brothers/sisters of Enrique and Susana. They were all very nice! Together we all went to a local bar and had a glass of wine. After some more introductions we headed up to the mountains where we went to eat dinner. The walk there was just stunning. The sights blew me away and the perfect view of the stars and the full moon only contributed to my amazement.
When we finally arrived in the mountains I was shown the bodegas. These are basically wine cellars down in the ground. These are everywhere in the mountains! People own them and customize them so that they look like actual houses inside (minus the dirt floors and the rocky walls and ceilings). But inside them there are couches, TVs, surround sound radio systems, bars, dance floors, etc. I’m not exactly sure how they get the cable all the way down there but it is possible. Anyways, we ate dinner and then a friend of my family took me into a bodega that was only for the teens. I made so many new friends there! Everyone wanted to talk to me and be my friend! I felt so loved! At about three A.M. we went to a party in the plaza where everyone dances and enjoys the company of one another. I went to bed at five A.M. this day!
Saturday, my friends came over and took me to the center of the city where they set off fireworks. After the fireworks were finished there was a countdown and then everyone exploded carbonated water all over each other! It was so funny to watch. When this was over I went to the house of Enrique’s parents for lunch. His mom was so sweet! She liked to pet my face and tell me how beautiful I was. She was so cute! Following lunch I went to take a long nap and then went to dinner. This night we ate lamb! It was delicious! And then after I repeated the night before. I went to the bodega and then to the plaza to dance. There was a live band from this day on.
Sunday, I woke up and went to tour the church with my host father. Then we began a procession with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The people of Sotillo danced backwards for a whole two km! This was from one side to the town to the other. When we got to the other side of the town we ate, of course. Eating is very popular here, along with sleeping. It’s a dream come true for me! After everyone ate we rode back to the other side of the town in a tractor! I went to a park and hung out with all my new friends and then went to the bodegas for dinner and dancing. Then again went to the plaza.
Monday, I woke up very early! The reason for this is because all the teenagers of the town came to my house and were playing music at my window. And remember that balcony I “luckily” had? Well I was not feeling so lucky then! When I finally sat up in bed I saw that someone was climbing up into my balcony. He then began banging on my door so I opened the door and I was taken outside and paraded around in my pajamas! Later on there was a big costume contest that is basically Halloween for us. It is a time when all of the kids dress up and walk down a red carpet and people vote on who is the best. The teens do not participate in this, but the adults do! My host parents and all of their friends dressed up and danced to Thriller by Michael Jackson. They won! It was hilarious to watch! After that we went to eat and then enjoyed one final night of the fiestas!
Then yesterday, I took some final pictures with my friends and headed back home to Madrid. I cannot wait to return to Sotillo. I already miss it and all of my friends! Everyone there is so friendly and I love it! We will be going back there next weekend! WOO HOOO!
Anyways! Thank you everyone who has gotten me this far in my exchange! Words cannot even begin to describe the wonderful time I’m having here! Love you all!
October 27 Journal
Hola a todo el mundo! Since I have last written I have done so many new things! The biggest thing is start school! I love going to school! (Just not waking up early!) So the schools here are completely different from the schools in Florida! We go to school at 8:30 and have 6 classes a day. After every class we have a 5 minute break, and in the middle of the day we have a 15 minute break (instead of lunch). Then we finish school at 2:15 and go home and eat lunch with our families. Also, we don’t change classrooms! The teachers are always coming to our classes. And if the teachers don’t come to class you can leave the school! It’s great!
So I would definitely have to say my favorite classes are my TWO English classes. They are always so exciting, and I think I am actually going to pass those 2 classes! (Well I hope!) The other day in my English class we played Blind Date and it was so much fun! I was the blind-dater and I asked the question: “If you could take me on the perfect date, where would it be?” Contestant #2 answered me, “I would take you to the McDonalds! The American’s favorite restaurant of course!” That made my day! But everyone at my school is very friendly with me! I’ll just be sitting in class and people will always say my name randomly. Another thing is they will just write my name on the board for fun! I love it! I think I got really really really lucky because in my class there is a girl who is Venezuelan and she speaks fluent English! The ironic thing is she is from Florida too! So English is her main language, and she can always translate what the teachers say to me! She is definitely my hero and I would be lost without her! In summary school is WONDERFUL!
So recently I went back to my dream town Sotillo♥, of course! We also visited a town close to Sotillo named Aranda! There we went to a big carnival and concert! It was so much fun! Another place I visited is Toledo! All I can say is WOW! Toledo is beautiful with a lot of history! I would love to go back to visit there another time! I also went to another place called Avila, which is also gorgeous! I have seen so many new things here and it has only been 1½ months! Oh, one of my favorite experiences I had here within my first month is LICE! YAY! I thoroughly enjoyed soaking my hair in mayonnaise! It was just so great. But with the help of my host parents and some magic shampoo, Nikki is lice-free! WOO- HOO!
I think it is safe to say I have figured out how to take the bus. About a week ago it was my first time to take the bus alone. So I went to the bus stop my friends told me I have to go to and waited there. As I was sitting I kept seeing my bus just pass me? I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t stop for me because they looked at me every time they passed. After about 1 hour at that stop I went to the previous one because I saw that the bus had stopped there. So then I was sure the bus was going to stop! WRONG! The bus did not stop for me, but stopped at another stop before. So after waiting there for 30 min I went to another stop in front of me and of course the bus didn’t stop. At this time I was incredibly confused! I didn’t understand why the busses didn’t want to stop for me. But finally I saw people at another stop and decided I would go there so maybe the bus person would stop. I went there and the bus stopped! When I got on the bus after 2 ½ hours I called my friend and told her the whole story and she just started laughing so hard and followed my story with one question, “Nikki, didn’t you stand up and wave to the bus driver?” So I now know how to work the bus system!
Next subject: THE LANGUAGE! I am really learning the language fast! I would not say that I am fluent but I have a basic grasp on the language. I am really good at understanding the cuss words because my parents and 4 of their friends got together with me so they could learn all of the bad words in English. So in return I was taught all of the bad words! But hopefully I will be understanding a lot more in a month or so. I really want to understand! (I have begun speaking a lot better now because my principal is helping me! She said if I create a cheerleading squad for our school she will help me improve my Spanish! So OF COURSE I said yes!!)
Some things I’ve learned, thanks to Spain:
Being American is the coolest thing since sliced bread.
Cheerleaders are a myth.
Jacksonville is famous because of Twilight.
Americans eat giant hamburgers or pizza for every meal.
Every American has a gun. (They learn this from Grand Theft Auto, of course.)
Cutting off police officers is okay.
Driving 2 inches away from another car is necessary.
My host parents are training to become professional NASCAR drivers. Meanwhile they are practicing on the neighborhood streets.
You’re not Spanish unless you eat a loaf of bread with every meal.
All Americans live in huge mansions.
Siestas do exist and complete me.
All of the big and manly looking men have little fluffy dogs!
If you go to a restaurant you must stay there for 4 hours, at least. (DEAD SERIOUS)
Scissors are no longer office supplies. They are kitchen appliances. You use them for cutting bread, pizza, peppers, spaghetti, and any other food you need to cut!
I finally feel like I belong here! The little things make such a big difference, from the doorman knowing me and opening the gate for me, to the mother of my best friend telling me she wants me to call her mom. My love for Spain is growing rapidly! I am so blessed to have the family I have and to have this experience in general! Thank you Rotary! You sure are making my dreams come true!
Favorite question I was asked recently:
“Nikki, can you talk gangster for us?”
December 26 Journal
FELiZ NAVIDAD!!! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! As a gift to you all I have decided to write another journal explaining my recent Spanish adventures!
First of all, if you read the end of my last journal I mentioned that my principal had asked me to start a cheerleading squad. The reason was because there was a big basketball tournament she wanted us to perform at. The whole idea of this basketball tournament was to make you feel like you were in an American basketball game. There is a basketball association here in Spain that goes around doing tournaments and such just like in the USA. Lucky for me when the head man of the program met me, he fell in love with me (theoretically) and wanted to write an article on me! The link for that is http://thegameoftheyear.es/new.php?id=15. There is another article in which I am mentioned as well, http://thegameoftheyear.es/new.php?id=11. Not to mention at the pep rally AND the basketball game he spent about 15 minutes talking about me and I got a standing ovation! WOO! So basically I’m famous here in Spain.
Anyways, back to the cheerleaders. The principal asked me to start this squad and make us the best. This was followed by: you have 1 month. WOW! I was up for the challenge and felt I could make it happen, because like my dad says “If it is to be, it is up to me”! I created 2 cheers for them to learn, one was in Spanish and another in English. I also made a dance for them to learn. They picked up the cheers very easily and it all went really well, until the dance came. Apparently my choreography was a little difficult but I was determined to make the girls the best and this choreography would do it. So apart from the Tuesday and Thursday practices I arranged for us to start practicing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (keep in mind this was all in ONE month).
After a lot of hard work my girls did it! They pulled through and learned the dance in time for the big game! In preparation for the game we had a huge pep rally at my school on December 15th. It was definitely a flashback of America! We had cheerleading uniforms with pom–poms, there were posters hanging around (the cheerleaders made all of the posters), and everyone was screaming and shouting. The cheerleaders all were introduced along with the basketball players and we performed the two cheers they learned. Then later we threw out candy for everyone and they went crazy! It was a very successful pep rally! On December 21 we had the big game! When I got there I was amazed! There were mascots, more cheerleaders, drum lines and everything! It was amazing! Something I found extremely funny was the other cheerleaders singing the cheers from High School Musical and Bring it On. It was hilarious! But my cheerleaders did absolutely amazing and had the time of their lives! I am so happy that I was a part of that!
Some of the next things on my list of things to do are: 1. I am starting an Interact Club with a fellow Rotary member working in my school, 2. My principal has asked me to help her organize a prom. haha! I really think my principal wishes we were in America!
SO CHRISTMAS! It honestly did not feel like anything at all for me. Christmas Eve I went to my grandparent’s house and we ate dinner and then I went to Midnight Mass with my grandmother. Christmas Day I went to my grandparent’s house again to eat and then I went to the circus with my best friend and her mom. The whole day the same thought ran through my mind and it was that I couldn’t believe it was Christmas! I guess it will feel more like Christmas on January 6th. Here in Spain they normally don’t celebrate Santa Claus coming. For them, the three wise men come with all of the gifts on January 6th. So hopefully then I will get my dose of Christmas from Spain. My amazing parents wrapped me all of my gifts from home and sent them to me, along with my aunt, my best friend Harrison Holmes, and also a family friend, Onie. I am loved!
New Years is coming! I am getting ready to head to Sotillo (the town where we have a house) and we will stay there for 5 days until January 1st. The following day I am heading to the Canary Islands!!!!!!!!! I will be there until January 10th and I cannot wait!!!!!
So yeahhhh! That sums up my recent activities! THANK YOU ROTARY, MY AMAZING PARENTS, AND ALL THOSE WHO ARE SUPPORTING ME AND MAKING THIS HAPPEN! You will not be disappointed!
March 8 Journal
Hello everyone! I know it has been quite some time and I apologize! My plate has been very full, to say the least! So anyways we are going to pick up where I left off in the last journal. Therefore this journal starts with NEW YEARS and the CANARY ISLANDS!
New Years was fantastic! We went to Sotillo where we had a very nice time like always! Everyone dressed up for New Years because it is something typical the townspeople do, but in the bigger cities they dress up very elegantly and go out with friends. We stayed there for those 5 days and then shortly after went to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. My trip there was nothing short of amazing! It was beautiful, with clear watered beaches and with volcanoes! I saw a beach with black sand for the first time in my life and it was so cool. I went with my family so it gave us a great opportunity to bond. Being in the sun and in the beautiful beaches gave us a new type of happiness. (Especially after being in the cold snow and rain in Madrid.) So yeah, in Lanzarote I learned a lot about my family and they also learned many things about me, one of them being my crazy obsession of Chinese food. There happened to be 93827642398 million Chinese restaurants on the island, so we went to one almost every day we were there! I was in heaven! In Lanzarote I felt like I had first class service on the beach. On the beach there are people who walk around with coolers selling drinks/ice cream. So every time they passed me they always stopped to talk to me and gave me hand/feet and leg massages! My host family got a kick out of it, and of course I did too! But hey I’m not complaining over free massages! Also when I was there an amazing feeling came over me! As I was translating everything for my family I realized, I’M BILINGUAL, NO WAY! That is one awesome feeling! After realizing that, I was in complete happiness (and still am)!
So that was New Years and the Canary Islands! Shortly after, I went back to the town because we had the annual fiestas of Sotillo again! This was almost exactly the same as the other celebration in September. That weekend was really fun but extremely tiring! Part of the traditions were staying out in the bars all night. WOW. So we all went out with our families at 11:30 pm until about 5 am and then we went off with our friends to the caves until 12 am, and from that we went to a procession across the town and to church. It was overwhelming but a great experience!
Next story is about my phenomenal trip to LONDON! YAY! I went with my host parents and all 24 of their friends from the town! It was soooooo cool! London is beautiful and the movies can’t even capture all the beauty of it! I learned a lot of history about it and saw so many extravagant sights! Something so weird was being around everyone speaking in English! And as I was in Subway ordering my food, I began speaking in English, but when I saw the cashiers awkward face I realized I accidentally began speaking in Spanish! OOPS! It was so crazy! And I have come to the conclusion that I much prefer speaking in Spanish than in English. It might be a little problem when I get back home, oh well. So yes! LONDON=LOVELY and I really hope to go back some day!
So what’s going on with me now? Well, I am taking a little time to relax. I have gone two whole weekends without leaving Madrid! Whoah! I’m really prospering in the relationships I have here and I am reminded everyday of how much I am loved and how big of a difference I am making here. Some of the little relationships I have here that I couldn’t live without are with my best friend and her mommy, my host brother, the owner of a local supermarket, the owner of a local paper supply store, and the owner of the bar in the town.
My best friend and her mommy are my heroes! These girls are so strong! They especially remind me how much I am needed here in Spain, because they tell me every single day. They lost their husband/daddy in June and as you may imagine they still are sad, but they tell me that without me it would have been so much harder, because when I am with them I bring them so much happiness. So we have each other when times are tough! I actually go to their house everyday at 6 am to have a coffee with my mami (my best friends mom).
Next person, my host brother, Pabli! That’s his nickname from me! He’s the cutest 12 year old boy in the whole wide world! We are really close and he opens up to me and asks me questions he can’t ask anyone else. We also fight and hit and punch each other, but it is all out of love! We are truly brothers and sisters now!
The next person on the list is the supermarket owner! His name is Lalo! He is awesome and has become to be like my father. He gives me advice on everything and always brings a smile to my face! So I always go to his supermarket to help out and I’m always talking with the customers! Being there so much has allowed me to make relationships with many people, for example, I know everyone who works there and we are all like family!
His supermarket is right next to the paper supply store which is how I met my role model, the owner. She is the most patient and kindest person on this Earth. I always go there and she gives me a coffee and candy. I also help her out by putting prices on things and making photo copies for the customers! I have also met so many people from being there. I go there every day except Sunday. She is like my teacher and when I’m there I read to her in Spanish and she corrects me, and later gives me homework! But when she gives me my Spanish homework she has to do the same exact thing in English, so we help each other.
Last but not least is the owner of the bar in Sotillo! She is so sweet! I think I have mentioned before that she has a picture of us hanging in the bar with my flag and she wears my pins every day. She was one of the first people I met in Spain and helped me A LOT because she speaks English. SO THAT’S IT! Sorry for going on, but I owe it to you all after slacking so much!
Anywho! I am counting down the days until I go to Hungary for Easter! I get to see my best friend in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD, Monika Ignacz! For the future outbound students, Monika was a Hungarian exchange student in my house the past year. She lived with me for 9 months and is my best friend. I don’t know where I would be without her, or our “matchmaker” Rotary Youth Exchange. This program sparks so many possibilities and opportunities and we are so lucky to have access to them! I have already confronted so many new adventures I could never encounter in the United States, and have learned so much about other countries, but most importantly myself! This year makes you look back on your old life and you learn many things about yourself, good and bad. I don’t know how it has affected the other exchange students but it has sure made me want to start a new life and become a new me!
That is about it for now guys! I hope you can all see how much this exchange means to all of us outbounds, and I am so jealous of you all because my exchange is almost over! My advice to you all is to practice your language (if you have a better grasp on it, it will take you less time trying to learn it in the country, which takes a lot of time away from meeting people and making great relationships)! Stay positive in your exchange and be strong in the hard times because everyone is rooting for you! You will not regret your decision to be an exchange student! I can’t thank you enough Rotary for every door you have opened for me. I am trying my hardest to make you all proud!